What To Do About Ned?
A Family Mediation
The impasse on whether to look for an assisted living facility for Ned or to find caretakers to come into the home was resolved with a simple question. What was that question? By now, I’m sure you’ve figured it out. Neither Jane nor Sharon directly asked Ned, “what would you like to do?” Each made assumptions based on their own preferences and filters. When Marjorie interrupted the discussion to ask Ned his opinion, he said he would prefer to move to an assisted living facility because he felt he would have more opportunity to socialize than he would if he remained in his home. Voila – problem solved! The search has begun for an appropriate assisted living facility for Ned.
There are a number of lessons about conflict resolution that can be drawn from this simple, real-life example. First, a conflict does not have to be acrimonious. Here, Jane and Sharon recognized that the other wanted what was best for Ned. Second, parties to a conflict always bring personal preference (or bias) to the table. Based on their respective perspectives, Jane and Sharon each thought they knew what was best for Ned. Third, there is no such thing as a stupid question. The only stupid thing is not to ask. Once Ned was asked what he wanted to do, the problem was solved. Perhaps Sharon or Jane had asked Ned prior to the meeting. If so, perhaps he gave a different answer. Or, perhaps they hadn’t understood what he wanted. Anyone who knows Ned immediately realizes that his desire to continue to be social is consistent with who he is. The rationale for moving into an assisted living facility seems obvious in hindsight. It should have been the first question asked at the meeting, not the last. Although this was not a litigated matter, there are lessons for attorneys and mediators handling such disputes: always, always, focus on the wants and needs of the parties. Don’t make assumptions. Ask questions and keep asking. Most conflicts are resolved when parties ask questions and really listen to the answers.
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